Slap in the Face of the Reverend Floyd Flake, by Jackie Cissell

Former Democratic congressman Floyd Flake of New York was recently uninvited to the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus Prayer Breakfast. Now, if anyone should be welcome at the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus Prayer Breakfast, it should be Floyd Flake.

Rev. Flake spent six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He is also pastor of the 9,000 member Allen A.M.E. Church in New York.

All of these qualifications would seem to make him a shoo-in for the Prayer Breakfast, right? Wrong! The Rev. Flake has a problem — a problem for the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, that is. He is the founder of the 480-student Allen Christian School. To make matters worse, he is one of the greatest speakers in America today on the issue of educational reform.

“When a white person kills a black person, we all go out in the streets and protest,” says Rev. Flake. “But our children are being educationally killed every day in public schools and nobody says a thing.”

Black folks across the country also believe this. To rectify this problem, predominately black congregations have started private schools in urban areas totaling more than 400 across the country, according to Headway magazine.

The Institute for Independent Education reports that the number of black church schools has doubled in the past 12 years. Rev. Flake and other black pastors around the nation, are saving trapped and failing students from the public school system.

During a visit to Martin University a couple of months ago, Rev. Flake took the Democratic Party to task for not being at the forefront of the education reform movement.

“Preachers have become an appendage in the party. That’s why I’m apolitical now. I want both parties to deal with me.” The Indianapolis Recorder says that Rev. Flake’s educational program, which he said he will continue to tour on, is not expected to be implemented overnight.

But for a minister who took education into his own hands by creating his own school, educational reform must begin at the top and with a strong minority following.

It appears this is the fear of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

Rev. Flake must have hit a nerve: So much so that the anti-reform black representatives in Indiana could not risk having him speak.

Indiana is currently considering education reform legislation that allows parents to receive up to $2,000, depending on the number of children and their income. The money can be used by parents for remediation, textbooks, summer camps, tuition or any number of other uses — as long as it helps their youngsters do better in school.

Now, who could be against that? Most of the members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, that’s who.

While education reform legislation did pass in the Indiana Senate, it was opposed by black legislators.

It is disturbing that the desire to empower parents in how they educate their children is not at the top of the agenda of some of these black legislators, given the fact that constituent responses to the Indiana bill were reported to be only 46 against the bill and an overwhelming 893 in support of it. Are these legislators listening to the voters who elected them?

Equally disturbing is the literal slap in the face to the Rev. Floyd Flake, with the withdrawal of his invitation to the prayer breakfast. It apparently does not matter that Rev. Flake has spent years supporting their agenda. But, the minute he dares to go against the prescribed agenda, the baby is thrown out with the bath water.

Nevermind that Rev. Flake has a heart for failing students and has set out to help them. To his critics, he has now joined the ranks of the sellouts simply because he wants a better education for poor and minority students through vouchers, tax credits or by any means necessary.

(Jackie Cissell, a member of the national Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21, is an associate with the Indiana Family Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana.)

Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

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